Doctors for Extinction Rebellion’s protest puts MCC deals in spotlight

·4-min read

The rain came to Lord’s just after two in the afternoon. As the players walked briskly from the pitch, and the spectators popped their umbrellas or started to scurry for cover, a huge orange banner dropped down from the top tier of the Edrich Stand. “JP Morgan,” it read. “Stop bankrolling new oil and gas”. The font “JP Morgan” was written in matched the one used on the sponsored hoardings either side. The firm, which is the world’s leading investor in the exploration of new fossil fuels, has been MCC’s main corporate partner for the past decade and its branding is plastered all over the ground.

It wasn’t the first time there’s been a protest at Lord’s, but it was the first in a long while when anyone has managed to smuggle a banner in past the stewards or, perhaps, been willing to pay for tickets to do it. Protesters here in recent years have tended to stay outside the gates, or in one case, in 2008, chained themselves to them.

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It was all very polite. The man and woman behind it, Chris Newman and Alice Clack, who are both members of Doctors for Extinction Rebellion, explained that they had timed it so it wouldn’t interrupt play, because they didn’t want to ruin everyone’s day. Which meant they were less of a nuisance than the portly MCC member sitting in front of the pavilion, who held up the game when his garish egg-and-bacon blazer distracted Ben Stokes from his batting. The stewards told him to take it off. They took the banner down too, then escorted Newman and Clack out of the ground. “They were,” Newman said, “very kind about it.”

So, the banner wasn’t up long, but it didn’t need to be to embarrass MCC, who make great play of their green credentials. They released this statement later in the day: “MCC puts sustainability at the forefront of its running of the club, as conveyed within our environmental, social and governance strategy, and which has seen Lord’s operate on 100% renewable energy since 2016, amongst many other initiatives. JP Morgan is a principal partner and longstanding supporter of MCC and cricket at Lord’s and we are working with them, as we do with all of our partners, on aligning with the club’s own environmental values.”

JP Morgan’s press office was on, too. Oddly, their statement didn’t mention the $81bn they invested in fossil fuels in 2020-21, or that they had increased their financing of coal production from $1.28bn to $3.8bn in that same period.

“In 2021, we facilitated more than $100bn for green activities like renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable transportation, doubled our green investment banking activity and were the largest underwriter of green bonds,” JP Morgan’s spokesman said. “These efforts help put us well on our way to our target of $1tn for green initiatives over 10 years, including for technology that will tackle climate change but does not even exist yet. We are also taking pragmatic steps to meet our 2030 …” etc and so on.

So that’s probably enough of that, let’s get back to Newman and Clack. They said the people around them in the stands applauded their banner when they unfurled it, then cheered again when Clack pulled it back from the stewards after they had hauled it in.

“We’re not radicals. We’re just trying to do what’s appropriate,” said Clack.

“JP Morgan uses these sponsorships [and Lord’s isn’t the only one, there’s also the Commonwealth Games and the National Portrait Gallery] to sanitise their image when the reality is that they’re the world’s leading financier of the expansion of fossil fuels.”

Clack compares it to the advertising money spent by the tobacco industry, and cricket, of course, has history there too, with the John Player League and the Benson & Hedges Cup and all the rest. “This is blood money, and we need to start calling it that.”

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“How do you push back against that?” Clack asked. “JP Morgan pays insane amounts of money to plaster their logo all over this ground. We don’t have hundreds of thousands of pounds to run a counter-advertising campaign. We’ve barely got the £150 to buy a ticket to come here to hang our banner up for five minutes.”

They’d heard all those PR lines already. “We know they’re doing a lot of green investment,” Newman said. “Well, great, but it’s like giving someone poison and then being proud you’ve also provided a small amount of the antidote.”

The same goes for MCC. They are powered entirely by wind‑generated electricity, they don’t send any waste to landfill, and their own sustainability manager, Dr Russell Seymour, contributed the forward to the recent Hit For Six report on the impact of climate change on the game. They’re right to be proud of all that. Which shouldn’t stop them from being embarrassed about what they’ve got wrong.